49ers look to right the ship against The Citadel

FB_GP_CBThe Charlotte 49ers (3-3) will travel to Charleston, S.C. this afternoon for a 2 p.m. kickoff as they look to right the ship against The Citadel (1-4) following three consecutive losses after starting the season 3-0. The 49ers have been in a position to win late in all three contests but untimely turnovers, penalties and special teams mistakes continue to hamper this team.

The Citadel implements a triple-option attack on offense similar to the Charleston Southern running game that gave Charlotte fits two weeks ago in a 47-41 overtime loss. The Buccaneers racked up 333 yards on the ground against an injury-depleted 49ers defense playing without their two inside linebackers Nick Cook and Caleb Clayton-Molby.

“We’ve got to stay fundamental against them,” said Charlotte safety Desmond Cooper earlier this week.

“They’ll be running, running, running, then hit you with a pass.”

The 49ers offense will have to sustain long drives throughout the game to keep the defense well rested. Charlotte has struggled to hold on to the football all season with too many turnovers and a dismal 25 percent conversion rate on third down. The 49ers converted just two of their 14 third down attempts a week ago against Gardner-Webb.

Charlotte quarterback Matt Johnson has struggled to play a complete four quarter game this season. Johnson has looked great at times, especially throwing the deep ball in recent weeks. He’s struggled with his decision making in 2014, completing just 52.1 percent of his pass attempts while tossing eight interceptions compared to only seven touchdowns.

The loss of senior wide receiver Mikel Hunter from the 2013 team has limited Johnson’s options out wide. Austin Duke has been electrifying for the 49ers offense with a team-high 44 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns but Charlotte needs another big-play threat to step up. The rest of the 49ers pass-catchers have just 45 total receptions this season and have only accounted for two scoring plays.

The key for Charlotte’s offense will be establishing the running game early and often. Kalif Phillips has been arguably the best running back in FCS football this season with 585 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. Feeding the ball to Phillips will allow the 49ers to control the clock and also free up some space for Johnson to operate. Johnson has also been impressive running the ball from the quarterback position this year, totaling 367 rushing yards while averaging an outstanding 6.7 yards per carry.

The Citadel comes into today’s game with a disappointing 1-4 record but don’t let that fool you. The Bulldogs have played some of the best teams in the country, including the reigning national champion Florida State Seminoles. The Citadel will be looking to bounce back from a tough 17-13 loss on the road last weekend against a very good Wofford Terriers team.

The offensive game-plan for The Citadel will come as no surprise. The Bulldogs will run the ball down your throat all afternoon behind a rushing attack that averages nearly five yards per carry.

Quarterback Aaron Miller is the leading rusher and passer for The Citadel but he is much more dangerous with his legs. Miller has 381 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground this season. He struggles throwing the ball but honestly he doesn’t put it in the air very often. Miller has thrown just 62 passes this season and has only completed 37.1 percent of those attempts.

Today’s contest will be the fifth and final game away from Jerry Richardson Stadium for the 49ers. A win this afternoon would go a long way in building momentum as Charlotte will finish the season with four consecutive games at home.

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